If names could win matches, PSPB would have strolled into the final of the Men’s Hockey National Championship (A Division) here. As it were, the star-studded side displayed none of the immense international experience it boasts of in its ranks, dishing out a pedestrian game to go down 5-2 against underdog Air India on Saturday.
It has been a while since Air India competed for the title in any major domestic tournament. With ageing warhorses leading and youngsters on contract taking the first flight out for a permanent job, the team has been able to find neither the right combination nor the stability required to perform consistently.
PSPB started well and got two goals in as many minutes, gaining a 2-0 lead in the 7th minute itself. But once things settled down, the chinks came to the fore. Air India regrouped, patiently building its attacks from either flank with Amir Ali and Somjeet taking the responsibility of setting up Mohd. Raheel and Sourabh Kushwaha upfront. Raheel finally tapped one in in a goalmouth melee.
Post half time, however, there was hardly anything from PSPB. Harjeet Singh and Tushar Khandker managed to hold the midfield together but with the defence unable to keep pace with the Air India attack and its own forwards messing up easy chances, it was of little use.
Players like Armaan Qureshi, Talwinder Singh and S.K. Uthappa, all having been part of title-winning India sides till recently, could not control or tap the ball in.
At the back, Raheel, Ajay Yadav and Kushwaha kept running circles around Devinder Walmiki and Diwakar Ram.
Raheel, who struck four times, was left unmarked despite being a constant threat and when someone did come up on him, managed to dodge him away with ease.
When PSPB did manage a gap or PC, goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh foiled them. For a team given little chance of winning, Air India coach Rajnish Mishra was visibly proud.
The other semifinal saw Services walking away with a deserved 2-0 win against Punjab & Sind Bank for its maiden final.
With several new recruits across its various wings, Services played attacking hockey and dominated the proceedings for a large part of the game. PSB defence was tested repeatedly but the Punjab side, true to its nature, managed to foil them but did not fall back, instead trying to get a goal of its own.
It made for exciting end-to-end action. Though Services had the upper hand, PSB had its chances, specially on counters, but could not capitalise on them.
The results: Semifinals: SSCB 2 (Jugraj Singh, Ajinkya Jadhav) bt PSB 0; Air India 5 (Mohd. Raheel Mouseen 4, Mohd. Faraz) bt PSPB 2 (Diwakar Ram, Armaan Qureshi).